The last couple of days of our travels in France were spent in Nice which, to be honest, wasn’t really that nice at all. When we first arrived in Nice we were blown away by the lovely coastline, clear blue waters and the beautiful people strolling and rollerblading along the Promenade des Anglais. However, Nice suffered from what my Dad would refer to as DDF, or distance distortion factor (although he doesn’t typically use this phrase to refer to places) – the closer you get, the less pretty it becomes. Upon closer inspection it was pretty clear that Nice’s glitz and glamour only extended about 3 blocks back from the beach. From there, Nice turned into a maze of souvenir shops, tourist restaurants selling fish and chips and mushy peas and streets littered with dog poo. It was such a comedown from our time in Provence, and we were pleased to have only arranged a 2 night stay.
If we had to name a highlight it would be the walk to the top of Castle Hill that we did on our last day. Castle Hill is a public park with an amazing waterfall, a very old Jewish cemetery and views out over the beach and the port. We got up there early to avoid the heat and it was a nice walk.
We now find ourselves in Rome. Sunday was a very long day of travel with a flight from Nice to Rome and then a couple of buses to get to our accommodation. We are staying at a lovely BnB recommended by a friend from work (thanks Sherilyn!). Our host, Lucyna, is such a mother hen and fusses over us all the time. Her son, Flavio, says it is a blessing for him because otherwise all that fussing is directed at him. We didn’t arrive at the BnB until about 9 pm in the evening, so quickly checked-in and then wandered off for dinner and to find a Tabac, so that Campbell could get cigarettes. After finding all of the shops in our neighbourhood closed, we finally stumbled across a cigarette vending machine. We thought we were onto a winner until we got halfway through our purchase and realised that we needed to insert an Italian ID card to confirm we were old enough to buy smokes. After much head scratching, we yelled out to a man on the street who very kindly came over and helped us finish the transaction. The experience was very similar to being a teenager loitering outside the liquor store while someone’s older brother bought you a bottle of Bernadino.
Our fellow houseguests are an interesting bunch. Campbell has nicknamed one of them “the grot” and the “turd burglar” after using the bathroom after him and finding a big steaming log left in the loo. It’s funny, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure the guy speaks English and can understand everything we’re staying about him. A new guest arrived last night – a young guy from Germany who has been long-boarding his way around Europe. He’s posting videos of his trip on Youtube and hoping to become the next Youtube sensation, so that he never has to go back to the real world. Our exploits seem pretty tame by comparison.
We’ve had plenty of time during our stay to take in some of Rome’s great sights – the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Vatican City, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps etc etc. We both found the Vatican City such an odd place – on one hand it is a holy site of significance and grandeur, yet it is surrounded by some of the nastiest, tackiest souvenir outlets and shops we’ve ever seen. There are tourists crawling all over the place wearing crop tops, pouting and posing seductively against water fountains and other monuments. You just know those pictures are going to end up plastered all over Instagram and Facebook #Religious.
We also went with Sherilyn’s suggestion and did a walking tour of the city, which covered some amazing churches. Despite our waning interest in churches you can’t really come to Rome and not see a couple. My favourite church had a tiny, wizened little priest who looked totally harmless until he absolutely unleashed on the Austrian girls in our group who had worn denim cut-off shorts into the church – it was a pretty shameless breach of the dress code. After blasting them (complete with classic Italian arm waving), he shuffled back inside the confession booth, where he looked set to drift off (potentially permanently).
Sadly, we’ve found that the food in Rome is pretty hit and miss. I love carb loading as much as the next person, but the total saturation of pizza and pasta restaurants can be a bit much, especially in the very touristy areas. If you just amble round the city trying your luck there is a very high likelihood that you’ll end up with a soggy pizza, or stodgy carbonara. To find good food requires a bit of work. Luckily for us, Tripadvisor never fails. Last night we had a great steak meal at a taverna down a little alley off Campo De’ Fiori. Campbell was especially in need of some red meat, having had a strenuous afternoon playing bingo with the locals at the pub down the road from our BnB. While he was doing that I window-shopped in the city and picked up mandatory souvenirs. I had planned on buying some new shoes, but 3 months of wandering around has not been kind to my feet and I just couldn’t bring myself to inflict them on a sales assistant.
On our way home from dinner we stopped by the Trevi Fountain, so Campbell could see it in action. It has been empty and barricaded off since we got here, which our walking tour guide told us has been in preparation for a Fendi fashion show that was happening there today. Karl Lagerfield and his entourage where there inspecting the stage when we arrived, which prompted me to nut out a little bit, elbow my way to the front of the crowd and take a hundred photos like a crazed member of the paparazzi (this is how Campbell recalls it anyway). When I couldn’t get a good shot Campbell had to take over, which he did with far less enthusiasm. Being tall is certainly a plus when you’re travelling in very busy touristy places. We are way bigger than a lot of the other tourists, which means we can elbow them out of the way (gently) and take photos from over their shoulders or above their heads. It also means that on a jam-packed bus or metro, they get stuck in our armpits and not the other way round.
Tonight we made our way across the river for dinner in Trastavere, which is regarded as one of the more gritty and authentic neighbourhoods. If/when we come back to Rome we would like to stay here. Based on our experience tonight, Trastevere absolutely goes off in the evenings. There are bars and restaurants everywhere and people enjoying live music, dinner and drinks. There are far less tourists and a much better atmosphere as a result. After another great dinner, we managed to grab a couple of seats at a bar and watch the semi-final of the football between Germany and France. We caught a taxi home and got dragged off at the lights by a guy in a Fiat Panda blasting Bone Thugs. It was surreal.
As some of you will know from my Facebook SOS, we have had a bit of bad news during our stay – our tour of Turkey has been cancelled due to the recent terror attacks at Istanbul airport. We are gutted and, due to the constraints of our round-the-world ticket (namely that we have to move in one continuous direction and cannot backtrack), have limited options to fill the 2 and a bit weeks we would have been in Turkey. It turns out that almost every country between Greece (our last stop before Turkey) and India (our stop after Turkey) are war-torn, or carry some risk of being blown up. Trying to organise something new on short notice, in high season, and with a modest budget sucks the big one. At this stage, we will either stay in Greece and sun ourselves for a couple more weeks (poor us!), or head to Croatia if we can find flights that won’t require us to sell an organ on the black market.
Tomorrow we make our way to Capri via convoluted travel arrangements involving a taxi, train, bus, ferry, bus. It will be a long day, but we’re confident it will be worth it. Capri looks amazing!